Racing

Congrats, Ricky, Yiu've done it

KrisFlyer International Sprint-winning trainer fends off three-time champion Cruz for first Hong Kong title

Ricky Yiu sealed the champion trainer title at Happy Valley on Wednesday night to fulfill a lifelong dream - and he did it with a smile and a shrug.

With Hong Kong in the midst of a coronavirus "third wave", the famous Valley crowd was not there to cheer his remarkable feat. There was also no presentation to mark his victory.

But Yiu, who staved off a last-minute challenge from three-time champion Tony Cruz by two winners with his 67-winner score, was fine with that.

"I've really achieved my goal. This is the peak of my career, but a lot of people are more excited than I am. The staff are very happy. I'm happy too, but I don't have this excitement," said the first-time champion.

"I've been in horse racing all my life - winning, losing, it happens every meeting, so I take it very easily. Even when Sacred Kingdom won the Hong Kong Sprint, I kept quiet. I don't know why, it's just me."

His world champion sprinter also won the KrisFlyer International Sprint at Kranji in 2009.

Despite his coolness, the sense of the achievement was not lost on the 63-year-old, whose career goes back to 1972, when he joined the first intake at the apprentice jockeys' school.

His training career also brought Group 1 successes with Sky in Dubai and Ultra Fantasy in Japan.

But, at the start of this term, no-one expected to be calling Yiu the champion trainer.

Despite his track record as an astute horseman, he is perennially mid-rank.

"It wasn't really expected," he said. "I knew my horses would do well from the start of this season. But it was only about 21/2 or three months ago that I thought I had a chance.

"From then on, I thought, 'I'll work on this', but before that, no. I just put my head down, kept working and kept focusing.

"When I saw they weren't catching up, it's a once-in-a- lifetime chance, so I went for it.

"I always look forward, but I did look over my shoulder and there was Francis (Lui) and Tony (Cruz) - these two trainers were catching me up."

Lui and Cruz were breathing down his neck into last Sunday's Sha Tin fixture. Cruz nailed a double but Yiu delivered a birthday treble to go into the downtown finale with a four-win cushion with 67 wins. Cruz and Lui were tied at 63 wins apiece.

"I was four in front, so this last meeting at the Valley, to win three or four would be a miracle - it's a big ask. When I won the last race at Sha Tin, I knew the chance was mine," said Yiu.

Cruz had only four runners on the card. The first, Power King, scored to narrow the gap to three. But, when his California Rad ran second in the night's sixth event - and with Lui winless - the championship was Yiu's, even without him adding to his haul.

Cruz took the final race of the season with Waldorf.

The last time a homegrown hero won the title, flags waved and the locals stayed well after the last to cheer. That was in 2013, when Dennis Yip defied expectations to nail the championship in very last race.

This time, Yiu was ushered for a socially-distanced salute to photographers, before going about the business he knows best - saddling horses to race.

"It's very strange. It's never happened before like this, it's totally different, but I don't mind," Yiu shrugged again, contented that his name will be written in the record books - crowd or no crowd.

Zac Purton won his fourth champion jockey's title with 147 winners, nine clear of Joao Moreira. - HKJC

HORSE RACING